As the father of two biracial Jewish daughters in the Montgomery County Public Schools, and as an elected local government official, I’m acutely aware of the rising antisemitism and hate speech that’s infecting our Montgomery County community.
Our county is one of the most diverse counties in the country, with 10 percent of our residents being Jewish, yet we’re seeing an unprecedented and seemingly unending spiral of divisiveness and hate speech take root here. Against the Jewish community alone, anti-Jewish bias incidents shot up 55% in 2022 compared to 2021. The trend regrettably continues in 2023.
This means that to counter this rising antisemitism and hate, we need more than just stronger enforcement. We also need greater public education about antisemitism. To do this, it’s crucial that all members of the community, such as schools, the police, the state’s attorney, civil society activists, experts and residents themselves work comprehensively together. Yet weaving them together is no small task. It requires coordination, partnership and continuous engagement.
That’s why we in the Town of Chevy Chase have asked our neighboring municipal governments to build on the excellent efforts that both our county council took last November to address and combat antisemitism and our county executive took in January to improve security and deter hate crimes. These efforts were respectively led by County Council President Evan Glass, County Council Vice President Andrew Friedson and County Executive Marc Elrich, all of whom deserve tremendous credit for vigorously tackling this issue.
Specifically, on March 8, the Town of Chevy Chase’s Town Council passed a resolution and action plan to counter antisemitism that we have shared with the other 21 municipalities in the county. This initiative is now being discussed by each of the municipalities, who’ll have an opportunity to join the effort so that we can work together on this challenge by implementing the vision of our county’s leaders. We hope to formally endorse the effort this spring.
The goal of this initiative is to take the fight against antisemitism to the next level by creating an integrated, municipality-wide set of public education activities. We municipalities are on the front lines of our communities. We’re in direct touch with all our residents, enabling us to be the first responders to counter hate when we hear from our residents about incidents such as hate leaflet drops, hate speech defacings and physical altercations in our neighborhoods when they occur.
We municipalities are the glue of our communities and are now poised to use our platforms to comprehensively counter antisemitism. Here’s what the resolution that we shared with the county’s municipalities states:
“Antisemitism has no place in our communities, at our schools, in our public areas, and on our doorsteps. As local elected leaders, we fully condemn this age-old hatred of the Jewish people and stand in solidarity with our Jewish residents.
“We stand firmly against any and all actions that aim to intimidate our Jewish residents through the use of hate speech, display of hate symbols, such as Nazi swastikas, and through physical assault. We oppose with equal fervor, any expression of hate or bigotry against people of any racial, religious, ethnic identity, or sexual orientation.
“We support activities undertaken in our schools that educate our children about the history of antisemitism, raise awareness of this bigotry, and encourage students to oppose antisemitism and other hate speech and activities when they see or hear of them. “We also believe that activities must take place in our communities to raise greater public awareness about antisemitism, both historically and contemporaneously, and commit to implementing a public awareness campaign against antisemitism that engages every municipality in Montgomery County.
“This campaign will be comprised of public ‘antisemitism awareness’ events in differing municipalities of the county this calendar year. We will seek the broadest possible public involvement in these activities.
“We will work with experts and leaders, such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and Jewish Community Relations Council, the Maryland Municipal League’s Montgomery County chapter, and local law enforcement and other entities, to provide a full spectrum of topics to increase awareness of antisemitism and hate in our communities. We believe that vigorous, consistent public education will provide the most effective defense against this and other age-old hatreds that have no place in our dynamic, diverse, and inclusive communities.”
We believe that it’s crucial for local municipalities in Montgomery County to engage in countering the scourge of antisemitism through direct activities that educate our residents about the threat that we all face. We believe that, as municipalities, by working in close partnership with our residents, allied organizations, government officials, and individuals, we will have a fighting chance to beat back this hate.
And we must. Because when one group of our residents is unsafe, all our residents are unsafe. ■
Joel Rubin is vice mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and former Jewish outreach director of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.